Memo to Philly Sports Fans: You Really Do Suck

Sunday's incident with the beer-drinking toddler has me convinced: Our brutish image as a sports town is absolutely deserved

In the words of Ray Charles, a long line of exasperated mothers with disobedient children, and members of the Clinton administration, here we go…again.

The headline in the sports section of Wednesday’s USA Today summed it up best: “Boy with bottle latest black eye for Philly.” You already know what it included: a recitation of the latest addition to our unfortunately long and winding road of boorish fan behavior, most recently the nationally televised (and quickly gone viral) clip of an infant sucking on a beer bottle. (Popular opinion seems to be that the bottle in question was empty at the time. But hey, you never know—it was Beer Week.) This follows, of course, Matthew Clemmens, the pride of Cherry Hill, intentionally vomiting on an off-duty cop and his daughter in April at a Phils game, and teenager Steve Consalvi’s romp through the Citizens outfield that resulted in his televised Tasering two weeks after that. Charming. [SIGNUP]

Frankly, I thought we’d gotten past all of this. Or at least I’d hoped we had. How many years now have we had to live down the pelting of the faux Santa with snowballs (1968), the pelting of an official with more snowballs (1989), and the thunderous growth in cheers the longer Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin lay motionless on the field of the Vet, perhaps with a life-threatening injury (1999)? In November 2007, we ran a brief story basically blowing back at the national sports media to stop beating the “Philly fans suck” horse, arguing that their constant dredging up of long-ago bad behavior was lazy and painted a twisted portrait of our sports team zealotry. They weren’t quick to buy in. “The question is whether or not Philadelphia fans embrace it and want it to be true because it separates them from everybody else,” ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser told our Rich Rys.

At the time I thought such a notion was ludicrous: City sports pride is one thing, but who wants a national reputation as a bunch of Neanderthals? Now I’m left to consider: Evidently, us. After the kid got Tasered, the big question debated wasn’t “Why did this idiot run onto the field?,” but rather, “Was this excessive force?” And even the vomiting episode—I mean, who could possibly defend that?—elicited this dismissive comment from a guy at the bar I was sitting near at Stogie Joe’s in South Philly: “So what, some guys drink too much beer and get nasty. Film at 11.”

Oh, people. People, people, people. Is it any wonder everyone thinks we’re crude, obnoxious and just plain awful?

We can’t even use the old standby anymore: Well, our teams suck. They don’t. (Well, OK, the Sixers do. But still.) And what does it matter, anyway? You don’t see the Knicks’ fans vomiting on each other, or the Lions’ fans, or the Pirates’ or Orioles’ fans. Fans get passionate—they’re supposed to—and studies show that everything from how well we think we shoot darts to how sexy we feel can be affected by the fortunes of the teams we root for. But we in Philadelphia can’t seem to be satisfied with fervor. We can’t ever seem to offer up any sense of restraint.

And that’s too bad, really. Because there’s never been a better opportunity for us to show some class. The Phillies have won back-to-back pennants and a World Series, and are on national television almost every week; the Eagles have been a national playoff contender for almost the entire prior decade. And those rakish Flyers came out of nowhere—making the playoffs on a shoot-out on the last day of the regular season—to make a thrilling, improbable run all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. This is a golden moment in Philly sports. And a golden chance for the world to see we’re not only passionate about our sports, but also about our sportsmanship.

And what do we do? We slash the tires of a sportswriter with Montreal license plates. Classy.

I was with my brother Pat at the Wachovia Center the night the Flyers beat the Canadians to advance to the Finals. Inching our way out of the parking lot, my brother and I watched as throngs of Flyers jersey-wearing fans weaved in and out of the traffic, hooting, cheering, egging on drivers’ to honk. All good stuff. But as we slowly advanced to the access road to I-95, I watched as three men in Canadians jerseys walked by, heads down. They were being heckled, and well, if you go to an opposing team’s stadium in the other team’s jersey, you’re fair game for that.

But then something happened. Two different groups of—I’ll put this politely—brutes in Flyers gear each spied the trio at the same time. They quickly meshed together and fell in lockstep behind them. Their collective taunting got louder, coarser. The Canadians picked up the pace. So did the Philly guys.

I turned to Pat in the car. “We may have to do something here,” I said. I had no idea what, exactly—I was in no mood to get my own ass kicked for a bunch of Montrealers—but I reached for my cell phone. Just then, the thugs retreated, laughing uproariously at the intimidation as the Canadians scurried off into darkness.

If you’re one of those louts who’s sorry he missed it, don’t worry. It’s sure to be repeated, and soon. And then flung onto You Tube, for all the world to see.

MICHAEL CALLAHAN is Philly Mag’s articles editor.